We took some time this month to interview Helen Corner, Director of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Cornerstones offer professional editing advice to authors for a fee, and have been supporting new writers since 1998. They’re passionate about writing, editing, and launching new authors, so it was a natural fit for us to join up with them. We posed a few questions that we thought would be interesting for members of www.iwritereadrate.com to Helen, here are the responses:
Q1: Cornerstones have a lot of experience in helping writers with editing their work. For the benefit of the members of iwritereadrate.com can you tell us a little more about what you do and your expertise?
A1: I worked at Penguin and felt there was a gap in the market for helping new writers learn the craft of self-editing. Many writers were being overlooked because their manuscripts were unpolished and there was/is increasingly less resources for in-house editing, so I set up Cornerstones in 1998 with five freelance editors.
I believe that while talent can’t be taught, self-editing techniques can be. It’s then up to the author’s ability to master those and apply them to strengthen their work. Cornerstones has grown organically, responding to our authors’ and the trade’s needs, and we now have 60 editors and have helped launch many writers over the years. See www.cornerstones.co.uk and authors’ journeys for case studies – as every journey is different and sometimes it can be uplifting to see the behind-the-deal story.
We’re a fee-paying service and our ethos is to support the new writer and give them the best start possible in the publishing wheel. We don’t take on every author but we’re always happy to chat things through and see sample material, whether they end up coming to us or not. We run an open advisory line, 020 89680777, so if anyone has any questions let me know and I’d be happy to talk things through. It would be helpful if you could mention that you heard about us via iwritereadrate.
Q2: From your experience, what advice would you give an aspiring writer about how they should go about self-editing their work in the first instance?
A2: The first draft often holds the magic that makes the manuscript sparkle but it’s usually in rough form and needs tidying up and strengthening.
But how does an author know when they’re ready to receive feedback, and what to change without losing that original sparkle? Usually when they can no longer see the wood for the trees, suspect they know what revisions are needed but require professional input (ie. not from a friend or relative!) and then an awareness of how to go about making effective revisions.
Receiving feedback can be nerve-wracking but once an author gets used to the process and trusts the feedback – where an editor resonates with what the author already knows deep down – it can even be an enjoyable process.
A common mistake is to rush to make revisions as soon as the author’s received feedback. Let the power of knowing what you want to change build in your mind after a while of mulling things over, you should probably then begin making those revisions. Also, take what an editor says and build on that and make it more than what they’ve suggested. That is when an author ‘owns’ their revisions and makes a real dent in their writing rather than surface revisions.
Q3: In your opinion, what challenges do unpublished writers face in their dream of becoming published?
A3: 2011 is the ‘year for debut writers’ so says The Bookseller, so new writers should feel full of optimism.
I think the challenge is to not lose hope – they’ll hear from agents and editors all the time that it’s harder than ever to get published, which can be true – it’s hard! However, if you have a fantastic story with the ‘X’ factor and it’s polished and ready to go then an author should make it, and if not with that MS then with the next.
Having trawled through the slush pile at Penguin for many years the standard of new writing and submissions is extremely low so I believe it’s easy to shine if the author is professional and takes it upon himself to produce the best book possible.
Positive thinking and perseverance is the key. So many (talented) writers give up if their first MS doesn’t get anywhere whereas all writing is essential to the road to being published, no effort is wasted. Put it aside and move on to the next if you hit that wall. The author should always consider whether their book is the best to launch their career or can they do better? If your first book dies then the struggle of getting booksellers to take on the second book, however much the publisher pushes it, is the curve-ball to watch out for.
Q4: How do you think the publishing industry will adapt to new and emerging technology over the next five years?
A4: Word on the grapevine is that they’re all in a state of flux about it and don’t really know where it’s going. But I think it’s exciting as it’s breaking up some of the power and monopoly and restrictions of the old publishing model between publisher, bookseller-to-consumer and high discounting, and where the author has often been the one to lose out.
New technology is opening up alternative ways for the consumer to acquire books and more interactive ways of reading books (e-books and multi-media) and for the author it’s introducing new ways of getting published (self-publishing and e-publishing).
If an author no longer has to attract a traditional publisher then in some ways it can be empowering to the author. If the author self-publishes, not overlooking the fact that the quality of manuscript should be high – no consumer wants to waste money and time on sloppy, boring works – and the author knows how to garner market presence (facebook, website, tweeting with a following) then it could even be lucrative whilst maintaining the vision for their book. If they can negotiate foreign rights, all the better. Although these are the areas that an agent or publisher know inside out – that and knowing what sells and how to publish well – so if the author doesn’t fancy reinventing the wheel then the traditional route is still the best.
Q5: What are your thoughts around the new community for unpublished writers being launched by iwritereadrate.com?
A5: I think any forum where writers can pool advice, chat to one another and give feedback on work without having to travel anywhere, is great. The best online communities are ones that are supportive rather than competitive and where writers feel they’re being looked after by one another and the site experts. And if it remains interactive where interesting and different things are brought to the e-forum table, then even better.
Q6: What top writing tips can you give the aspiring writers on iwritereadrate.com?
A6: Put the hoover away – writers will often find any excuse not to write – I know because I write and I hate cleaning yet my flat is spotless at the moment. Even if you stare at your screen for two hours a day you’re still allowing your mind to enter into that semi-dreamlike state; you’re still writing.
Sometimes when I’m stuck over a scene it feels like drinking bitter medicine. I know it’s good for me to persevere but it’s not always that enjoyable. If I’m really not enjoying it then I give myself permission to put it aside for a while. However, a writer friend said that the scenes she wrote when she wasn’t in the mood ended up being the best ones. So, persevere and don’t become attached to your ‘little darlings’.
Don’t worry too much about getting it wrong in the first draft – it can always be put right later. Self-editing is really as simple as reading from a hard copy (and out loud) and every time you stop reading or the flow snags, question why and how you can fix it?
Don’t stress about your writing and try not to care too much about the outcome of whether you get published or not as that puts unnecessary pressure on the process. Enjoy it, as that is what matters. And if you’re having a good time, so will your reader.
When you’re loving writing then you know it’s flowing and you’re in the zone. We all LIVE for those moments otherwise we wouldn’t do it at all.
Once you’ve completed your novel you must ensure that it’s at submission level before sending it out, and then there’s an effective process to avoid the slush pile. Half of my co-authored book handles this process: Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly, Hodder. Or just contact me Helen@cornerstones.co.uk and I can talk you through it.
Q7: If you could change anything about the traditional way that writers get their work published through Agents/Editors/Publishers – what would you change and why?
A7: For authors to be more professional about their writing and the submission process and to remember that it’s a business. If authors approached a publisher as they would a new job where they’re up against 1000 other applicants, it would probably put things in perspective.
For agents and editors to be faster in getting back to authors. However, remember they’re a business and until you’re earning money for them they don’t owe you anything. Harsh but true. So, when an agent spends time considering your work and giving you feedback, even if it’s a turn down, don’t forget to thank them.
Don’t rely on an editor making extensive revisions, if they do then it’s a bonus, as often they only have limited time to read your MS and make editorial suggestions. The dream author is the one who doesn’t need too much editorial input, and when they receive input to speak the editor’s language and know how best to fix the problem areas. For instance, one author had an editor say the main character wasn’t working and to cut him out. The other editor said to build him up. They’re saying the same thing – strengthen the character – and the solution is down to the author.
You can’t control how others work but you can have control over your own professionalism. Concentrate on that and the rest should follow.
And finally, really good luck and enjoy the sensation of writing and aiming to get published, because when you finish your first draft and you love reading it, and then an agent does and then the publisher, and then the book buyer! That’s what it’s all about.
Q8: Any final thoughts for the members of iwritereadrate.com?
A8: Good luck and keep in touch.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Helen, some fantastic industry insights here which will be beneficial to our members. Also, we totally agree, self-editing is an integral part of the writing process.
Remember to register on our website to be given pre-launch access to upload before anyone else and to be entered into our competition to win an eReader at the sites full launch. There’s also a short FAQ’s section on our website if you’d like to find out more about us.
Visit us at: www.iwritereadrate.com
Look forward to seeing you soon.